The 2014 NBA Finals are over, marking the official conclusion of the NBA season. While that is a sad thought for many basketball fans, there's no need to worry because there is still plenty to talk about.
On June 26, 30 teams will try to secure their next franchise or All-Star-caliber player in the draft, and on July 1, free agency officially begins. While it will be exciting to see where top prospects like Joel Embiid, Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker land, much of the focus around the league is on this summer’s free-agent class, which features top stars LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony.
Whether James and Anthony decide to team up, stay on their respective teams or move their talents elsewhere, their decisions will undoubtedly reverberate around the NBA and alter the landscape of free agency as a whole.
With this in mind, let’s discuss three of the latest rumors below.
Will LeBron James stay or will he go?
When the Miami Heat lost the championship to the San Antonio Spurs in five games, James’ NBA Finals record dropped to 2-3.
For most of the series, James was the only member of the Big Three to show up. Chris Bosh failed to make much of an impact with his jumper or on the defensive end, and Dwyane Wade looked like the aging player with bad knees that he is, often showing an inability to finish around the rim.
James averaged 28.2 points, 7.8 rebounds, four assists and two steals during the five-game series, shooting an efficient 57 percent from the field and an incredible 52 percent from deep. However, he got little help from the rest of his teammates, which is the exact reason why he left the Cleveland Cavaliers for the talent-loaded Heat in the first place.
Widely regarded as the best player in the league, the four-time NBA MVP can opt out of his contract and become a free agent this summer. But according to Marc J. Spears of Yahoo! Sports, a source suggested James may remain in Miami: "‘Where is he going to go that is as good or better than Miami?’ the source told to Yahoo Sports. ‘The San Antonio Spurs? The Chicago Bulls? The Los Angeles Clippers? Where is he [realistically] going to go?’"
Spears points out that many of James’ potential destinations do not provide a better opportunity to win a title than Miami. Returning home to play for the Cavaliers could provide for a nice narrative, but James wants to win rings. Although Cleveland has star point guard Kyrie Irving and the top pick in the draft, the team simply doesn’t have enough pieces to seriously contend.
The Chicago Bulls would be an attractive team for James, as he could pair with Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah to make for an impressive trio. But Spears doesn’t see that happening: “But can you really see James with an Eastern Conference rival that couldn't beat the Heat even when Rose was healthy?”
In addition, large-market teams like the Los Angeles Lakers, Los Angeles Clippers and New York Knicks simply don’t have the cap room to sign James.
Although Wade is no longer in All-Star form, he can still provide valuable contributions most games. Bosh is an effective scorer who can stretch defenses, and Pat Riley has shown he can be creative and bring in a quality supporting cast. The Eastern Conference is weak, and Miami provides the best opportunity for James to return to the NBA Finals for a fifth consecutive year.
Carmelo Anthony eyeing Bulls and Rockets
Carmelo Anthony averaged over 27 points, eight rebounds and three assists last year, and he is perhaps the second-best scorer in the league behind Kevin Durant. The seven-time NBA All-Star can opt out of his contract this summer, and many teams across the league would love to sign a go-to scorer of his caliber.
Unfortunately for New York, that team doesn’t appear to be the Knicks, per Yahoo! Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski:
New York Knicks star Carmelo Anthony is leaning toward leaving in pursuit of immediate championship contention, and awaits the Chicago Bulls and Houston Rockets to clear the necessary salary-cap space to sign him in free agency, league sources told Yahoo Sports.
As re-signing with the Knicks continues to fade as his priority, Chicago and Houston have emerged as the clear frontrunners to acquire Anthony, league sources told Yahoo Sports.
Chicago and Houston front-office executives are working diligently on contingencies to clear the space to sign Anthony outright – or engage sign-and-trade scenarios with New York, sources said.
Anthony enjoys being the star player in the NBA’s largest market. Although he can make more money by signing with the Knicks, it appears that his focus is winning championships, and he is now willing to take less money in order to sign with a contender. According to Wojnarowski, Phil Jackson has lobbied for Anthony to stay, but the 2013 NBA scoring champion is concerned how long it will take Jackson to build a championship team.
If Anthony wants to win now, Chicago and Houston could provide that opportunity. Like James, forming a trio with Rose and Noah would be dangerous, and pairing Anthony’s ability to put the ball in the net with Chicago’s defense could make for a formidable team in a feeble conference.
In Houston, a Big Three of Anthony, Harden and Howard would be extremely hard to defend. Howard can dominate the post, Harden can penetrate the lane and Anthony can hurt opponents with his terrific mid-range game. Although the Rockets would have to navigate a daunting Western Conference, they would certainly have the ability to contend for a title.
Will Patty Mills leave San Antonio for New York?
Patty Mills was a huge asset for the San Antonio Spurs this season—especially in the playoffs—as a backup point guard to Tony Parker. Despite playing only 76 minutes in the 2014 NBA Finals, he averaged 10.2 points per game and led the team with 13 three-pointers.
Most notably, Mills made five shots from deep and scored 17 points—including 14 in the third quarter—in 18 minutes off the bench in Game 5 to help San Antonio eliminate the Heat and capture the NBA championship.
The 25-year-old free-agent point guard did himself a lot of favors with his performance this postseason, and the Knicks are interested, per Marc Berman of the New York Post:
The Knicks will look to use their mini mid-level exception to obtain a free-agent starting point guard, and one may have emerged out of the Finals massacre of Miami in Spurs backup Patty Mills.
According to a source, Mills would be intrigued by the idea of playing in New York and increasing his role from Tony Parker’s backup to a more marquee role.
"New York is definitely a city Mills would want to play in," the source said. "He has that personality."
It is no secret that the Knicks could use an upgrade at point guard. In 65 games last season, Raymond Felton averaged 9.7 points and 5.6 assists per game but shot less than 40 percent from the field and only 32 percent from deep. His off-the-court antics have also been of concern, as “Felton’s arrest in March on a gun-possession charge didn’t help his status with the Knicks,” per Berman.
Mills is a high-energy guy and a solid defender who showed his dedication to the sport by losing weight prior to the start of the 2013-2014 season. It will be interesting to see what the market is for the backup point guard and if the Spurs are willing to pay Mills. If they aren’t, New York could be the next place for the Australian to call home.
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